UK radio sector: New government and MPs reports come to the fore

UK radio sector: New government and MPs reports come to the fore

Tech Highlights:

  • The stand out conclusions of the government commissioned report – called the ‘Digital Radio And Audio Review’ – are that the FM network should stay operational in the UK until at least 2030, and that measures might be required to ensure radio is always freely accessible via smart speakers.

  • Two new reports have been published about the future of the UK radio sector, one commissioned by the government and the other by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Commercial Radio.

In the UK, the shift from FM to digital radio has been slow-going, with the target date for removing most stations off FM – forcing people to switch their listening to digital channels – having been pushed back multiple times.

With that in mind, an executive summary states that the report recommends “there should be no mandated switch-off of analogue radio until at least 2030 – meaning that FM radio broadcasts can continue for at least another decade so the elderly, vulnerable and people in remote communities can access essential news and entertainment”.

The new report notes that about 60% of radio listening in the UK is now via digital channels, whether that is online, via digital TV services, or on the digital audio broadcasting network. But that still means a sizeable audience is relying on the old-school analogue AM and FM networks in order to tune into their favourite radio shows.

Meanwhile, the report also confirms, when it comes to online radio listening, smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home are becoming an increasingly importance device via which radio services are accessed. The report says that a third of UK adults now access content and services via smart speakers; Amazon, Google and Apple control 95% of the smart speaker market; and 64% of audio consumed on those smart speakers is live radio.

That’s all lovely for the time being, but concerns have been expressed about whether the tech giant’s smart speaker systems will become more limiting in the future. The new report “notes there is nothing within the current regulations to prevent tech platforms from being able to limit or restrict access to UK radio services or to charge stations for carriage”.

To that end, “the report recommends new measures to protect UK radio stations’ accessibility so that their content is carried on platforms via connected audio devices such as smart speakers and car infotainment systems. This will mean they can continue to reach loyal audiences as radio is increasingly listened to via tech platforms rather than traditional radio sets”.

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